In the Studio with Artist-In-Residence Merla Tootle: Interview

Interview conducted by Gallery Director, Sigrid Trumpy.

Where would you like to start?

I will start with  a description of my art materials. I am a painter and recently, it's been almost 10 years , I became a watercolorist. So my tools that I use are paint, either oil or watercolor and brushes; but I found that I like to use the palette knife. I learned to use the palette knife with oil and then I learned how to use it with watercolors.

How do you use a palette knife with watercolors?

I was taught that you can mix gesso with watercolor and you spread it just like oil paints. It has a very slick consistency so that you can use it with a palette knife.

Why do you prefer watercolor to oil or acrylic?

I was quite surprised that I would enjoy it.  I took watercolor as a student and I hated it. It always became muddy & just was a mess. Over the years I found it was my impatience with the medium  that made it so hard to be successful. Years later I have now attempted watercolor, I have a different attitude on life and painting now. I have found with watercolor I'm able to be very expressive about what I am painting. I will usually paint flowers but also enjoy painting landscapes.

What is your earliest memory of art?

I remember when I was in second grade my teacher came to me and asked me to be part of the mural painting that they were doing for the school. It was all grades and I felt really special that I was chosen to be part of this special project.

Obviously that was a very pleasurable experience for you as a child. Did you continue to create throughout your elementary and high school years?

I was always painting or sketching. I was an only child and spent a lot of time with adults so in that time I always chose to draw.  I always took art classes through elementary, junior high and high school and then decided to continue and major in art in college.

So you've been making art almost your whole life. Who is your muse and why?

 I actually found my muse right here in Maryland Hall. . I had a demanding job and painting in oils consumed too much time.  I decided to take a watercolor class and change my direction. I knew Erika Walsh from where I worked in the art gallery and I admired her work. I met her while she was still living in Germany and came to deliver work and always enjoyed seeing what was in that portfolio she carried. She opened a new world to me.  I find her a total inspiration, for her strength and her teaching ability to appreciate watercolor. As I said I had a very dissatisfying attitude towards watercolor but Erika changed that totally and now I find watercolor is what I prefer to create with.  Through Erika I learned not to obsess with the painting, but paint loose and fast. Just let the painting develop.  As my muse one of her favorite phrases comes to me “it's just a sheet of paper”.

What is your ideal creative activity?

I have enjoyed and have had the opportunity to paint en plein air with my artist friends. I've traveled to France and many places in the US and Mexico.  I find it inspiring to paint with other artists and painting plein air is always better than painting from a photograph. I have been blessed that I have painted in Giverny with the gardeners. I applied to paint on the day that only artists are allowed to paint in the garden and spent the whole day with two other artist friends. It was like Monet was there with me.

The other opportunity I had recently was that I went to Abiquiu, New Mexico to see the George O'Keeffe home and her art. There was a seminar coming up for a limit of six people where we could paint at her home.

What did the seminar include?

We were asked if we preferred to paint in the morning or afternoon. Morning painting consisted of getting up and being at the pick-up spot ready to go at 6:30 am. I knew that I could do that. I wanted to be up and out at her home. We were not actually allowed to paint in the house or the courtyard where her famous door painting was done, but we painted on the grounds. It was not a class but just an opportunity for you to paint and envision and be there and see what she painted. The class ended with lunch.

Also another amenity to this class was  we went into her bomb shelter that is not part of the tour. She was an amazing woman. She had planned a total bomb shelter for her staff and her to be able to live if there was ever anything you need to be protected from. I do not regret painting early in the morning because the afternoon class was all thunderstorms which are so typical of that area.  I had talked to the curator earlier and he recommended painting in the morning and he was right.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am looking forward to having a show here in Maryland Hall in September. I have to go through the decision process of what to paint.  I know t's going to be a watercolor exhibit.  It will be with nature because flowers and landscapes are what I love to paint and I have to somehow combine my love for abstract painting.

L-R: Infiniti, Pansy Orchid, Sea Nettles.

 

For more information about Merla, visit her Artist-in-Residence profile

This is part of an ongoing monthly series featuring a Maryland Hall Artist-in-Residence (AIR). Check Maryland Hall's website every Monday for a new post. Each month we will feature a different AIR. Click here to visit the Maryland Hall AIR page.